This evening I drove to the airport to pick up my mentor and friend after a long field trip collecting plants. Our airport is a small airport. There is basically one big "waiting room" where people hang out before a loved-one departs and where others await their loved-one to arrive. I love hanging out at the airport. There are always happy reunions and tearful departures. That waiting room is always an emotional place for someone.
Tonight I watched as (what appeared to be) a youth group send off one of their dear friends to somewhere distant for a long period of time. There were tears. There were huddled prayer times (both before she left, and after she made her way up the escalator).
I watched as loved-ones arrived to eager hugs and kisses. I watched as little girls waited for their Daddy to come down the escalator to come home.
I watched as one young man waited for this special someone. He nervously watched the clock...and when people started coming down the escalator, he stood off to the side, watching and waiting...all the while holding a single long-stem rose.
As I watched these tender moments, I was reminded of those very emotional moments I've spent in airports. Some of which were in that very same room.
When I was a senior in college, I said good-bye to my worried parents in the airport as I headed off to Tanzania for a month-long trip. I was EXCITED. I knew this trip would have an impact on my life...I just didn't know how. I was nervous. My parents were worried. There were tears, but to be honest, my tears were short-lived. I was on an adventure!
The reunion after that trip was less emotional for me...but it was so great to return to happy (and proud) parents.
During our first year of marriage, Z and I were separated by war. He spent the entire first year of our marriage in Iraq. When he was granted his two-week leave to come home, I met him in the airport. The very same airport I sat in tonight. I was so incredibly excited that he was coming home for two weeks! We had talked through email leading up to these weeks...we made big plans. I knew those two weeks would go so fast. But at the same time, I was SCARED. Hugely scared. What if Z wasn't the same person I married? What if war had changed him? What if he no longer felt the same way when he saw me that he used to? What if we spent the whole two weeks fighting? I had heard of lots of soldiers who came home to crumbling relationships. I had heard of lots of soldiers having experiences during war that changed them. What if we didn't "connect" any more?
It turns out we were both nervous about this reunion. But, by the time we got his bags from the baggage claim, made our way to the car, and got out of the parking garage I knew we were going to be fine. We were talking like there hadn't been months and months of separation. Things were the same. WE were the same. I exhaled.
Two weeks later, I had to take him back to the airport. I cried. Buckets and buckets of tears. We were blessed to be given a pass for me to go wait in the terminal with him...so I didn't have to drop him off ages before his flight at leave. Instead I went with him to the terminal and waited until he boarded. He boarded at the last possible minute. And after he was gone, I sat in the terminal for another half-hour and cried.
But my most recent memory of the airport was of meeting my two boys for the very first time (in that very same airport). I brought my friend K to the airport with me that day. I hadn't slept much at all the night before - I was so excited! We arrived early, and I paced nervously as I waited for the plane to arrive. I worried about whether or not the boys would like me. What if they didn't like me, or were afraid of me? What if they didn't like the way I looked? What if, what if, what if? What if I made a blubbering fool of myself when I meet them? What are all these other people in the airport going to think when I start crying when these two little boys arrive with their daddy? Will Z look different to me when I see him for the first time as someone's daddy?
I remember huge tears escaping my eyes the very moment I saw them. I spotted Z first coming down the escalator...and as soon as the people in front of him reached the bottom, I could see those two precious boys holding his hands (one on each side of him). I was paralysed at that moment. I couldn't run toward them...I could only wait where I was for them to come to me. I bent down, mumbled "hello", "welcome home" and "I love you" to each of them and handed them the stuffed toy I had brought to the airport for them. We spent a little time hanging out there, getting acquainted...Our homestudy social worker and her family came to meet us there and it was wonderful to have that moment with another person who knew what that moment felt like...The time was surreal.
The airport is a special place. Its hard for me to go to an airport without those memories creeping to the surface. Those memories contain some of the very hardest moments and some of the best moments of my life.